Creating a Kansas

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

If one hopes to seize Kansas for slavery or for freedom, or just one’s personal profit, one must first create a Kansas. The land already existed, of course, and some whites had settled there illegally back in 1853, shamelessly electing a delegate to go off and lobby Congress for statehood from land that the Non-Intercourse Act explicitly forbade them to dwell upon. In this, they scrupulously observed white America’s traditional means of respecting the rights of Indians to land reserved to them. Still more had come across from Missouri in more recent months, whether the KansasNebraska Act bore Franklin Pierce’s signature to authorize them or not. But making a state meant making a government and for that, they really did have to wait on the infamous law.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act may have driven a truck through thirty years of tradition in tearing down the Missouri Compromise, but otherwise it ran in fairly conventional ways. As no government yet existed, it had to frame a means to set one up piece by piece. That all began with the governor and a few other officers appointed by the national government and sent out to get the ball rolling. Knowing the potentially explosive situation, one which he had tried to avoid and been forced into, one would expect Franklin Pierce to appoint some kind of experienced hand. Perhaps he could dig out a superannuated elder statesman or someone helpfully out of the country for the past few years who could appear an honest broker to both sides.

Pierce naturally treated the governorship as a patronage position and gave it to Andrew Horatio Reeder of Easton, Pennsylvania. Reeder had never held office before, but the Postmaster-General thought that appointing a favorite son would help the Democracy in that quarter of the Keystone State. The Kansas-Nebraska Act passed into law at the end of May, 1854. Pierce announced his decision for Reeder on June 29. Reeder took his oath on July 7, but did not arrive in Kansas until October 7. That left a great deal of time for things to go wrong in Kansas, but Reeder traveled by the same means as everyone else.

Once Reeder arrived, the Kansas-Nebraska Act gave him broad powers to use in building Kansas’ government. In his inexperienced hands lay the power to conduct a census, establish a capital, set up electoral districts, and call for the initial elections to the territorial legislature. These powers would expire once that legislature first sat, but with them Reeder had the power to decide the time and manner in which that would happen. He could delay elections long enough for free soil settlers funded by the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Society and other such groups to arrive. He could hurry them up and hand the territory over to the Missouri slaveholders and their allies who had the geographic advantage. To establish his impartiality to concerned Southerners, Reeder told the Washington Union that he would buy a slave as easily as a horse. It transpired, however, that he lacked the cash to buy that slave and take it with him to Kansas.

That might have reassured some of the David Rice Atchisons of the world, but did little to calm the nerves of the Horace Greeleys, William Sewards, and Eli Thayers.

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